In spite of the strides women have made in the past decade, stereotypes still persist, and gender equality is surfacing slowly. The gender pay and representation gap seems to be even more pronounced in senior leadership positions at large companies. To this day, some companies do not even trust the approach of having female executives.
In Nigeria, identifying companies with the best female representation (at managerial level) can be a daunting task. But picture an organization with ladies leading strategic operations of the business! We took a deep dive into the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) Ltd. and its portfolio of women challenging male-dominated sectors. They shared their insights on diversity, inclusion, and their paths to successful careers. Read on to learn how they are leading the way.
Creating an Inclusive Culture and Supporting Women’s Progression
Creating an inclusive culture and supporting women’s progression are key priorities at NBC. Juliana Esezobor, People and Culture Director, emphasizes that diversity goes beyond gender ratios. She explains, “We have adopted a multi-tiered approach that reinforces our vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) throughout the organization. We empower our leadership team to take ownership and drive the diversity mandate. When seeking talent, we actively look for exceptional women who not only strive for success but are also passionate about mentoring and enabling the growth of other women. The Women in NBC Network (WINN) serves as a platform for engagement, connection, and enrichment of women within the company. It provides a safe space for us to discuss issues related to personal and professional development and offers valuable insights to drive solutions that meet the needs of our female colleagues.”
Oluyomi Moses, Trade Marketing Director, also highlights NBC’s deep commitment to supporting the inclusion of talented women in leadership positions. The company has implemented a comprehensive framework that seeks, attracts, retains, and promotes women in the workplace. Moses explains that their hiring process identifies competent women who can deliver on the job, and developmental programs like the Women in Leadership Program prepare women for active participation in leadership roles. Inclusive policies further support women in aspiring to and challenging the pinnacle of their careers. Moses describes her journey at NBC as amazing and fulfilling, being part of an ecosystem that provides quality beverages around the clock while pursuing daily aspirations.
Overcoming Challenges and Bias
Despite encountering biases suggesting that certain roles should be held by men, women at NBC have made significant contributions to the legal profession, corporate legal practice, and the judiciary. Abiodun Peters, Legal Director at NBC, emphasizes that leadership is not a function of gender but is driven by competence, passion, empathy, and the ability to make a positive impact. Overcoming gender biases and stereotypes remains an ongoing challenge, especially in male-dominated industries.
Morenike Ogungbemi, Regional Sales Director, shares her personal experience and how her progressive upbringing empowered her to address these challenges and excel in her work life. She highlights the importance of focusing on building relationships and a strong support system for her team. “Fortunately, I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a progressive family, raised by a courageous and intelligent father who encouraged women to study, work, challenge themselves, and make an impact. This has also impacted how I tackle my role to execute sales strategies and achieve financial targets. It has also helped me in building relationships with key stakeholders and creating a strong support system for my team are also important aspects of my job.”
Promoting Equality in Male-Dominated Fields
In industries predominantly dominated by men, such as manufacturing, women encounter unique challenges. Irene Ugwoke, Manufacturing Manager for NBC in the East, Central, and West regions, shares her experience of navigating this environment by focusing on adding value, developing strong work ethics, and building relationships based on trust and respect. “As a female leader, managing the male ego was crucial. I needed to be assertive and communicate effectively. Instead of direct confrontation, I positioned business needs as suggestions, guiding male team members to make the right decisions without realizing it was orchestrated. Emotional intelligence and relationship-building played a crucial role in managing egos.”
Ijeoma Onumajuru, Regional Sales Director for the North Central region, also discusses how she effectively leads her team and the support structure provided by NBC. “I joined NBC as a graduate trainee and have since been empowered through various leadership empowerment programs designed specifically for women in male-dominated spaces. Sales is a challenging job, and as a team leader of smaller sales teams in my early days, one strategy that worked for me was focusing on ‘PEOPLE.’ My ultimate goal is to build a high-performing, empowered, and engaged team to support business growth.”
Omobonike Oketunji, Procurement Director, shares how the company has supported her in maintaining strong professional relationships with male suppliers. According to her, “NBC conducts its business with a high level of professionalism that is gender-neutral, in line with our core values. I extend the same level of trust to our supplier base, who are part of our ecosystem. NBC has created an enabling environment for professionalism through strong processes, policies, and structures. The NBC Supplier Guiding Principles articulate our values regarding gender and professional conduct. Through effective communication channels, NBC reaffirms its commitment to supporting all female employees, including myself. Personally, I have never felt treated differently or held back by suppliers because I am a woman. NBC is vocal about our expected level of professionalism from our suppliers.”
Inspiring the Next Generation
NBC recognizes the importance of providing equal opportunities for young women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated fields. Misan Ilesanmi, Head of the Supply Chain Academy, actively champions equal opportunities and mentors young women in the academy. “In the past, certain operational roles were predominantly filled by men, reinforcing biases and limiting opportunities for women. However, I have made deliberate efforts to challenge these perceptions. Through a conscious selection process, we ask interview questions with an open mind, emphasizing the freedom for individuals to bring their unique values to their roles. This approach has resulted in more women being promoted and occupying leadership positions. I have also initiated programs aimed at fostering better understanding among our male colleagues and established a strong network of women focused on supporting each other’s success. These efforts have improved work relationships and positively impacted our business outcomes.”
The Power of Female Leadership
Tolulope Agosun, Regional Sales Director for Lagos Central, emphasizes the need for organizations to provide equal opportunities and resources to women, enabling them to reach their full potential. She highlights the positive impact of having female leaders on pay equity and attracting a more diverse workforce. “Women now make up 23% of CEOs in the USA alone, and the number of female managers is rising. Senior management roles grew from 29% to 31% in 2021, with 83% of countries having 30% or more women in management positions. These statistics prove that having female leaders in influential positions within an organization is critical not only for the career advancement of women but also for generating broader societal impacts on pay equity and attracting a more diverse workforce.”
Driving Transformation with Female Leadership
Mariam Oginni, Transformation Lead, discusses the challenges associated with driving transformation and overcoming resistance to change. “The truth is that transformation is all about making everyday improvements to how we carry out our responsibilities and live our lives in order to remain relevant and ahead in every element of life. You “innovate or die” in the world of today. As NBC’s transformation lead, it is my responsibility to work with the company to develop projects, initiatives, and methods of operation that will assist streamline and improve business operations and free up “oxygen” so that the company can concentrate on providing value to its consumers and giving priority to what matters most.”